Sorry--having a bad day for posting....last update (I hope!) Thank you, Jasmine 3 firewing and Zebra Wallpaper for your kind responses!

Disclaimer: Hobbits are not mine; they belong to JRR Tolkien.

A/N: In his book of Letters, No. 214 to be exact, JRRT explains that a Byrding (ribadyan) was the person celebrating a birthday. Upon the third birthday, the Babe (as I take it) formally becomes a Faunt--a 'walker and talker'. I keyed in on the word, 'formally' and made it into a rite of passage--so to speak, but the story doesn't focus on the milestone itself as much as it focuses on the byrding(s). Byrding-children always gave gifts to their parents; something they made, found, or grew on their own. Background check: Pearl is 18, Merry is 10, and Pippin--well that is in the story... I am by no means an expert, and hope I have interpreted the 'tradition' the way it was intended. Responses are always welcome, as is guidance and advice. Enjoy...

THE BYRDINGS

"Oy, my sweet little one, you're getting so big," Said Eglantine, lifting the small child out of his crib and onto her hip. And I can't do anything stop it, she said to herself, eyeing the small bed out of the way and pushed up against the wall. Pippin would graduate to the small bed after tomorrow.

The child made no reply, but instead slumped against his mother as he slowly awoke from his afternoon nap. Cheeks rosy red from the warmth of his quilt. Eglantine took a blanket from the crib and wrapped it around the boy so he wouldn't get too chilled. The mid-April air was still a bit chilly, making part of the room still cool as the small fire burned down to embers.

She walked around the bedroom with Pippin on her hip. It would only be a few minutes until he'd begin to squirm and wriggle--a sure sign he was fully awake, so until then, she would savor every minute he was in her arms. She held him close, humming a soft lullaby to ease his transition from sleeping babe to active little boy.

Tomorrow this little child would officially become a 'Faunt'--celebrating three years of life, and a true celebration it would be. Eglantine's thoughts filled with all the blessings and joys her child brought in the past three years...and the trials. Of course, her most vivid memories were of the joyous sort, but the trials of his birth and his first two years of life were a memory she'd rather forget. But no; his triumphs and trials were as much a part of her as they were him. Perhaps I should be thanking you!, she smiled and kissed his warm cheeks.

She wanted this moment to last forever in her heart. She noticed he seemed all too willing to shirk his babyhood of late. Naturally, he would go on with his regular afternoon naps, but eventually they would dwindle down to near nothing--finally stopping altogether.

"Down, momma," Pippin began to stir about in her arms.

"And just where are you going off to in such a hurry?" Eglantine held him closer, not wanting to let go.

"I going wit' Pearl," he said, rubbing his eyes. Pippin wriggled in her arms. "Down, momma," he said again.

Quite disappointed her time with him was over, she reluctantly set him down. Pippin's feet were already winding up for a go as they met the floor. She watched him run off in the direction of his sister's room.

Once the child had left, Eglantine busied herself with straightening up his room. Toys, blankets, and clothes scattered about the floor would become a memory before long. Pippin was the last of her adorable babies and Eglantine was having a hard time letting go. Even her girls were all growing up; Pimpernel now a teen and Pearl would be a tween in a couple years. Thankfully, the clearing of the proverbial nest was yet dozens of years away.

A short while later, Eglantine was interrupted in her cleaning by a young lass in the doorway, "Mother, may I take Pippin out for a walk?" Pearl stood wrapped in her coat holding a small child's hand and him also wrapped up in his coat and cloak.

Pippin was all smiles, "See, momma? I going wit' Pearl!"

Eglantine shook her head at Pearl's request, "Not alone, sweetie."

"I'm not alone, mother--Pippin is with me."

"What if you should fall or become injured? What is a small three-year-old child going to do?" Eglantine shook her head again, "No, if you go for a walk, Pearl dear, then you're taking another with you." Knowing Pimpernel went off with Paladin to the fields that morning, she thought of yet another child who was staying with them until after Pippin's celebration. "Why not Merry?"

"He had another sneezing fit this morning so papa told him he had to stay indoors."

Eglantine sighed, "He ought to know by now the lad doesn't sneeze because he's sick. There's," she waved her hands about, "something in the air that tickles his nose."

"He's in his room. May all three of us go then if I fetch him?" The teen smiled when her mother nodded her answer.

Pearl gasped in horror when she opened the door to her cousin's bedroom and found only one half of his body on this side of an open window. One leg was curled up and braced against the wall under the windowsill while the other leg stretched outward, keeping him precariously balanced--yet teetering on the edge of certain injury if his cousin hadn't stepped through the door.

"Meriadoc Brandybuck," Pearl used his full name whenever she was reprimanding him, "what in the Shire are you doing?!" She rushed up and grabbed the backside of his breeches and a fistful of his shirt, dragging him back over this side of the window. She looked over at the small but dangerous drop outside the window. "You could've injured yourself!"

Merry looked up at his cousin, "My soldier fell out of the window. I was trying to rescue him." In his hand he held a thin cord with a loop tied at one end.

"He's a wooden toy, Merry--you're not."

"Sorry."

Pearl took the boy and hugged him, "I'm sorry I had to scold you, Merry, but as mother says 'we chastise those we love'. Do you promise not to dangle out of the window like that again?"

"Yes," he answered.

Pearl smiled, "Promise me, you rascal!" She knew Merry would try his best to avoid promises of any kind, if he could help it.

Merry answered, "I promise not."


Pearl began giggling and held him firmly as he tried to wriggle free, "You promise to not what?"

Merry also started to giggle as he tried to free himself from his dear cousin's clutches. "To not drop my soldiers out of the window ever again!"

"That won't do!" Pearl tickled him until he gave in.

"All right!" Merry finally yielded, "I promise to not to dangle out of this window ever again."

"Or any window!" she laughed, "Say it!"

"Or any window!" Merry had laughed so hard he was now spent.

Pearl let her young cousin go, smoothing out her hair and the wrinkles in her coat. "Very well, Cousin Merry, you may now come along with Pippin and I for a late afternoon walk along the stream."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Aren't they lovely?" Pearl held Pippin's hand as they walked along the path. A clear, flowing stream was approximately a hundred feet to their left. To their right was a picturesque meadow sprouting colorful spring flowers of all kinds, and in the middle of it lay a patch of daffodils. A pale yellow they were, and beautiful to behold against the new growth of leaves in the trees and brush.

Merry ran on ahead towards the stream to skim rocks. Pearl called after him, "Stay out of the water!"

"Pretty flowers," said Pippin. He toted a small sack almost as big as he was that would be used in transplanting a few of the flowers. He let go of Pearl's hand, took the trowel out of the bag and crouched down where the daffodils grew. He held the little shovel in both hands as he started hacking at the dirt.

"No-no, Pippin!" Pearl took hold of his little hands, "If you dig like that, you will hurt the poor flowers!" She slowly demonstrated how to shovel more accurately.

Pearl was the one who had told Pippin this would be his task. He replied, "But I'm da birdie!"

"Yes you are," Pearl smiled at his mispronunciation, "and I will let go, but you must dig like this, understand?" Pippin nodded as he began digging just as his sister instructed.

Pearl sat off to the side watching her brother dig up the first flower. "Dis is for Pavinca," he said, carefully putting the flower, bulb, and earth into the sack.

"For Pervinca? Why?"

"'Cause....'Cause I want to," he answered, digging at another flower. After another successful uprooting, he announced, "And dis...dis is for Pim," Pippin put another daffodil into the sack.

"Are you giving away daffodils to Pim and Pervinca, Pippin?"

Pippin kept his eye on the task at hand, "No...just momma."

Pearl had a better idea of what Pippin was doing, but still wanted to be sure. She asked him, "Pippin--is one flower Pim, one flower Pervinca, one flower Pearl, and one flower you?"

"Yes," he cheerfully answered, putting the third flower into the sack. "and...and one is Merry."

"But mother and father have only four children. Merry is our cousin." Pearl didn't know if a child turning three understood about siblings or cousins.

Pippin held up a dirt-covered finger and thumb for each name, "I want dis many--Pavinca, Pim, Pearl, Merry, Pippin."

"That's five, sweetie," said Pearl; she had given up.

"Five...," Pippin mumbled to himself, seemingly enthralled with the new word, then picked up his trowel and started digging again.

Pearl loved her cousin dearly, but didn't know how her mother or father would react to receiving five flowers instead of the proper four. Merry wasn't one of their own children yet...he was considered part of the family. He was also Pippin's favorite cousin, trailing him wherever went--and the incredible thing Pearl noticed was that Merry seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps including Merry in Pippin's gift would cheer her cousin up some.

Pearl again observed her baby brother who would turn three tomorrow. He'd come so far against so many odds, and was proving to be a clever boy. "How many flowers do you have, Pippin?" She watched him put another daffodil into the sack; she saw he needed one more--for Merry--to make the five he wanted.

Pippin was still focused on his task, but took a minute to count his collection. He touched each one with his finger as he counted, "One....two...three....five....(he really liked that word!)..." He looked up when he heard his sister laughing, "What's so funny?"

Pearl only smiled. "I love you so much it makes me want to laugh!", she said as she scooped him up in her arms and planted a wet kiss right on his forehead.

Merry ran up to inspect the progress of his cousins, "Are you finished yet?" His mouth fell open when he saw four daffodils sitting inside the bag and was about to joined by a fifth. "How many flowers is he digging up?"

"One to represent each child it seems."

Merry sat down and counted the flowers in the sack, "But there's five here. Who is the extra one?"

"You, dear cousin," answered Pearl. She heard him sniffling and asked, "Have you been sneezing again?"

"It's me?" Merry smiled, ignoring Pearl, "Thank you, Pip."

"Merry!"

"Yes," he answered. Then he added more desperately, "You won't tell will you?"

Pearl sighed, "I won't tell father, is that acceptable?" Merry nodded; at least Aunt Tina didn't make him stay indoors.

"Are you finished, Pippin?" Pearl repeated Merry's earlier question. She watched as Pippin stood up; moist dirt clinging to his knees, legs, and for the most part his hands.

"Yes," he answered, wiping the dirt from his hands onto his shirt.

"Goodness, Pip--don't ruin your clothes!" She brushed off the excess with her handkerchief, and said, "Let's go down to the stream and wash you off a bit. Mother will have a fit if she sees you covered in dirt--and we don't want to spoil our surprise, do we?" Pippin shook his head. Pearl stood up and took him by the hand as the three of them headed for the water.

Merry scooped up more pebbles along the bank to throw and skim. "Is he going to take five rocks as well?"

"No, Merry," Pearl answered while wetting her handkerchief in the cold stream, "only three. I found a pretty rock here last summer and decided to paint it and then write my name on it in black ink. I gave it to my father for my birthday earlier this year."

Pearl dipped her handkerchief again in the water for another round of cleaning Pippin, "He seemed so pleased with my gift that I decided to persuade my younger sisters to each paint a rock for him--that's why we're choosing three rocks today. That way he will have a decorative rock from each child--and each one bearing their name on it." She finished wiping down Pippin's knees and put the soiled cloth into the bag. She held onto Pippin's hand as they began looking around the bank for a nice-sized rock.

Merry was lying on his stomach, leaning over the steep bank watching ripples form as he swished the water with his finger. "Do you think Uncle Paladin would like a rock from me on my birthday?"

"I'm certain he would love to receive a pretty rock from you, Merry."

"It wouldn't be a pretty rock," he said, "it would be a lad's rock with lad's colors."

She observed her young cousin swirling the water with his fingers; she was fairly amused with his 'lad's only' phase. Merry was a beautiful boy with light brown curls and blue eyes--a trait of the Brandybuck clan. While he never hated girls, he'd just rather not be around them all the time right now. Whether he knew it or not, he already had a few young admirers in Buckland.

Merry was normally a cheerful and high-spirited lad, but somewhere in the last few days he became melancholy--he always seemed to succumb to gloom just before returning home to Brandy Hall, and Pearl knew why. Then Pippin's idea of including Merry in his gift brought a suggestion to her mind, "Merry, why not choose a rock for yourself today?"

Merry stopped swishing the water and looked up at his cousin with a most baffled expression, "What?"

Just then Pippin spotted a rock that he liked and gave a shout as he picked it up, "Dis one! I like dis one, Pearl." He held up a very large pebble and smiled in triumph.

"Sweetie, that's too small," said Pearl, "Let's find a bigger one."

"But I like dis one." Pippin tossed the rock into the bag with the daffodils.

Pearl was resigned to the fact that there were probably already dozens of various sized pebbles inside the bag. Not letting the previous conversation with her cousin slip away, she encouraged him, "You should go ahead and pick one out to paint, Merry."

Merry again stopped swirling the water and then sat up with his legs folded underneath him. "But my birthday is far away in July, Pearl. Uncle Paladin will think I'm silly," he said.

Pearl stopped in her hunting, "That isn't so, Merry! You've never celebrated a birthday here with us, and I don't think that will change anytime soon. It will be too late after your birthday. Why not present your rock to father before you leave tomorrow?"

But then what will I give Aunt Tina?, he thought to himself. Since Merry had never celebrated a birthday in Whitwell he rarely got to show his appreciation to his aunt and uncle as a Byrding, though he would show it in other ways and at other times. Merry thought perhaps to change that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Papa?" Pippin's big green eyes peered around the door of his parent's bedroom. It was early evening of the same day; the eve of his birthday. He was prompted by whispers from behind him, after which he spoke, "Can I --," more whispers then, "May I...come in?"

"Yes, you may!" Paladin was drying his face after washing up for supper. Pippin walked inside and placed a box upon the bed and then climbed up without any assistance. Paladin's eyes met with his wife's and they both smiled. It was customary for a Byrding to present/receive his or her gifts the day before, or before noon of the actual birthday.

Paladin sat down on the bed and pulled his son onto his lap, "What do we have here?"

Eglantine handed Pippin the box to present to his father. She and Paladin had already seen her new daffodils--all five of them now planted in her little garden by the door. Now she watched as Paladin opened his gift--a freshly painted rock with swirling bright colors. Some mixed nicely...others didn't, but that didn't keep young Pippin from thinking he was making his papa the best present ever. Eglantine knew Pearl had helped him write his name on it; she recognized her daughter's script.

She wiped the tears that welled in her eyes. Their little boy, the child no one thought would survive his first week was now celebrating his third birthday. She saw her husband take Pippin up in his arms and kiss him a thousand times. Pippin wrapped his little arms around his papa's neck and received each one with a big smile and lots of laughter.

Eglantine knew that Paladin treasured each one of his daughters, but Pippin....he was special. Not a day would go by without a hug, a kiss, a song, or a story, and sometimes if it was a rainy day--a nap together as well. All their children brought joy and laughter into their lives, but Pippin brought a certain completeness that neither realized was missing.

Paladin finally let the child down, and then watched as he scampered out into the hallway towards his cousin's room.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The following day, there was a sumptuous mid-day feast following a very solemn ceremony of Pippin being presented to The Took. Pippin was dressed in his finest clothes as The Took, Cousin Lalia, presided over the blessing of the Faunt-child in the presence of the guests. Eglantine couldn't stop the tears from running down her cheeks. Paladin drew her close, handing her his supply of pocket handkerchiefs as they watched the Blessing; henceforth, he would no longer be referred to as a babe--but as a young lad, or little boy. (Well...almost never; all mothers have a certain prerogative to refer to their children as their 'babies'.)

Paladin had his fattest pig taken to the butcher that week and prepared for the dinner that followed. There was cured beef, roast chicken, hot buttered mushrooms, various potatoes and squash, fresh green beans, warm breads, cheese, and many other foods along with various drinks of choice.

Many Tooks were invited in addition to a few close friends that included Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and the Banks family. Even Saradoc, Merry's father, found the time to escape his study in Brandy Hall to attend the festivities with his wife, Esmeralda. The plan was to bring Merry home after having stayed a couple weeks with his Uncle Paladin.

After the feast, Merry went to his room to finish packing. On his way he passed his cousin Pearl who was chatting with Frodo in the hallway. He didn't see either of them follow him into his room.

"Have you given it to him yet?"

Merry startled at the sound of Pearl's voice. "It's not my birthday, Pearl." He saw Frodo trailing his other cousin inside his room, hands in his pockets.

"Will you be returning here for your birthday?" To Pearl, Merry's room closely resembled that of her brother's; a few toy soldiers scattered upon the floor and his bed unmade. Though his clothes had been picked up--they were undoubtedly still dirty and packed inside his bag.

Frodo watched as his young cousin reached under his bed for an object. "No, Pearl," he answered, "Brandybucks celebrate their birthdays only in Brandy Hall." Frodo knew this first-hand. Until Bilbo adopted him a few years ago, all of his own birthday parties were held there--when he had one, that is, after his parents death.

Merry said nothing; he continued packing his things and finished picking his toys up off the floor; putting them away for his next visit. Frodo was right; he knew neither his mother or father would ever allow him to celebrate his birthdays anywhere but in Buckland--more specifically, Brandy Hall.

Pearl sat down on his bed near his bag, "You painted your rock along with Pippin yesterday, did you not?"

"I did." Merry briefly paused, recalling the fun he'd had with Pippin as they painted their rocks together.

Frodo knew Merry almost as well as he knew himself. "What are you frightened of, Merry?"

Merry swallowed a lump in his throat, "I'm not frightened."

Frodo sat down on the other side of the luggage-bag, taking Merry's hands into his own, "What are you waiting for then? You've given early birthday gifts before."

"Not this early; he'll think I'm being a silly little boy."

Frodo chuckled, "You are a little boy!", then added with a sweet smile, "But you're not silly."

Merry was quiet for a moment, then spoke softly, "I wish...", he said, hoping Pearl wouldn't think him foolish, "I wish...I could live here, like you live with Bilbo. I don't want to go home--I like it here." Pearl heard her young cousin's remark and smiled.

"Somebody has adopted you," said Frodo. "Your Uncle Paladin loves you, Merry--even I can see that. Though it's not on a signed document, it's nonetheless in his heart. Would you leave here now--in the spring--and not return until late July or August without letting him or your auntie know how much you love them?"

Pearl saw the clock on the wall and considered the time getting short, "It's almost time, Merry. Your mother is in the kitchen as we speak saying farewell to my mother and father."

It was then Merry heard the familiar voice of his mother calling to him. "I have to go."

Pearl went on, "If father discovers you painted a rock for him and then didn't give it to him, it would break his heart."

Merry hesitated for a moment of indecision, looking in the direction of his bureau. He sighed, fastened the clasp on his bag and then carried it out to the kitchen where his mother waited.

"Merry!" Pearl shouted after him. She and Frodo followed him out of the room and towards the kitchen.

Esmeralda stood by the door and interrupted her own conversation with Eglantine, "Son, we're only waiting on you."

"Sorry, mum. I'm ready now."

Esmeralda ran her fingers through his hair, feeling the softness of her son's curls, "Have you properly thanked your Auntie and Uncle for their hospitality?"

"Yes, ma'am." Merry felt the hard gaze of his cousins standing nearby.

"Merry's been such a delight to have, Essie." Eglantine put in, "Will he be returning for Midsummer?"

"Actually," Esmeralda began, "I was going to take him up to the North Farthing to visit relatives up there--"

"Wait, Mum!" Merry shouted, "I have to speak with Uncle Paladin and Aunt Tina before we leave!"

Esmeralda teased her son, "Why? Have you been a naughty boy?"

"No, mum," he answered, "I just need to speak with them, is all. It won't take long--please?"

"Very well," she smiled, taking his bag and then kissed her brother and her sister-in-law goodbye, "we'll be waiting outside."

Paladin found himself sitting in his nephew's room along with his wife. "What is it that you must speak to us about, son?"

Merry went to the top-most drawer of his bureau and opened it. He took out an envelope and a box. "This is for you, Auntie," he handed Eglantine the envelope. "I'm sorry--It's not much. I had nothing else to give you," he said. Then he remembered something in his pocket. "Here." Merry handed her his favorite marble. "It's pretty--just like lasses like."

Eglantine looked at the yellow and red colored marble and opened the envelope. Her mouth moved as she carefully read the words on the parchment, then covered her lips with her hand as they started to tremble. She wiped her eyes as she gave the letter to her husband to read. "Come here, sweetie," She sniffed, and held out her arms. The letter read:

"Dear Auntie Tina,

I don't have beautiful flowers to give you. You are like my mum when my own mum isn't here. You scold me. You hug me. You make my favorite cookies when I'm sad. And you sing to me when I have a bad dream. I love you Auntie.

Your Nephew,

Merry Brandybuck"

Just as Paladin finished reading the letter, Merry presented a small box to him. "I....I won't be coming back until after my birthday."

Paladin took the box and opened it, taking out a small rock that was colored neatly in yellow, green, and red paint. He gazed for a moment at the rock he held in his palm. On the top in black ink was written, "Merry".

Merry blushed, looking at his feet. "This must seem silly to you....getting presents long before my--" Merry didn't get to finish his statement. Paladin stood up and swept the boy into his arms, kissing him a thousand times. When he was finished, he gave a loving hug to Merry, "I know Auntie Tina shall always cherish her letter, as I shall always treasure my gift. Thank you, Merry." Paladin placed the rock next to Pearl and Pippin's sitting on his bureau where he would see them everyday. "Never fear about being silly with us, all right?" Merry nodded.

A wide and genuine smile appeared on Merry's face. A tremendous weight lifted from his young shoulders, he suddenly hugged them both, "Goodbye, Auntie Tina, goodbye, Uncle Paladin!", then he ran out of the room and out to the waiting wagon.

Paladin stood and watched the wagon get smaller as it headed down the lane; as usual, it was a sad goodbye. After a few minutes he sensed his wife come up behind him and wrap her arms around his waist. He put his arm round her. He was thinking of his two little Byrdings and their gifts. Five daffodils; evidently, Pippin was already very attached to his cousin. In fact, the child fussed quite a bit when he learned Merry was going back to be with his Momma. Pippin asked Merry when he would be finished visiting his Momma and come back home.

Yes, there would be a void in his home for a time--until it was once again filled with the laughter of the fifth child; naturally, intermingled with the laughter of his third and fourth--and usually equivalent to trouble.

As the wagon disappeared from view, Paladin took his wife's hand in his, and walked back inside the warmth of their Smial.

~~The End~~